THE EL FLAMINGO was dark, had wooden floors covered with sawdust, a long well-scrubbed bar with stools and a few tables. The walls were decorated with cheap colourful murals depicting various probes and boosters lifting off into flamingo-laden skies -- which was odd, because no flamingoes lived in this part of the world. In one corner, a jukebox played recycled American trash -- endless reconstitutions of Britney Spears classics and R&B and the latest Michael Jackson clone (that's right, he'd cloned himself again!) There were a few dozen men inside, all in a partial stupor, with puffy red-rimmed eyes and a glazed expression. Most were native Filipinos who worked as launch crew technicians for the Nipponese Space Agency (NSA); there were a scattering of Nipponese and Euro/Americans in another part of the bar. On the walls were painted murals of heaving rockets and flamingoes dancing on the rayon breeze -- what tropicana! Barmen dropped ice cubes into glasses of beer. And in one corner of the bar, a little drunk and kind of perplexed, sat head of the Nipponese Space Agency extraterrestrial life department Ichiro Sato.

He was wondering if he should order another gin or go home when suddenly he noticed a man standing at his table.

<<Do you mind if I joined for a drink?>> the stranger asked in warped, mangled Japanese.

Sato squinted through alcohol-hazed eyes. He did not recognise the man. The stranger was plump, exuberant, with large projecting ears, a full head of tightly curled light hair, and an irrepressible smile. Sato guessed he German (he later discovered he was Dutch.) He bowed and gestured the man to sit down.

The thick stranger sat down, glanced at Sato's glass and said: <<Can I buy you another gin?>> It was the El Flamingo bar near the Filipino spaceport, and Ichiro Sato was being offered a drink by a thick stranger with large projecting ears. Somewhere in the world the sun was shining, coral seas splattered with incandescent light. Flamingoes and a frangipani breeze.

<<Sato-san>> the stranger said <<I need to talk to you.>>

Sato was taken aback. <<How did you know my name?>>

The man identified himself as Jan Waagenaar, a PR representative in charge of selling the NSA to European political and business clients (and even Greenpeace put up satellites these days.) He first clinched Sato's interest by dropping a line about the "enigma" of Medan. He then told the Nihonjin he had noticed a strange payload on the most recent NSA launch.

<<The launch manifest called for a Thai meteoroligical satellite to be boosted into stationary orbit. Yesterday the transport plane brought the payload to the launch pad.>> Waagenaar shook his head vigorously. He shook it. <<I wasn't there, so you know this is only heresay. These Filipinos gossip like anything, it's because the sun's too hot. But the word is -- and I'm only telling you this because I am drunk, and have nothing better to do -- but when they opened it they found a most puzzling sight.>>

<<What did they find?>> Sato said, his eyes eager.

<<A golden Buddha>> Waagenaar said.

flamingo -- a tropical enigma.
copyright plankettpods april 19 2002.
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